Be Amazed By This Marvelous Music Machine, Powered By 2,000 Marbles : All Songs Considered This is one of the coolest things you'll see this week.
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Be Amazed By This Marvelous Music Machine, Powered By 2,000 Marbles

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Be Amazed By This Marvelous Music Machine, Powered By 2,000 Marbles

Be Amazed By This Marvelous Music Machine, Powered By 2,000 Marbles

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(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "WINTERGATAN - MARBLE MACHINE")

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

That is the sound of 2,000 steel marbles.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "WINTERGATAN - MARBLE MACHINE")

MARTIN: Martin Molin is part of the Swedish band Wintergatan, and he spent two years building an enormous wooden instrument that runs on marbles. It's a magical, musical marble machine. And that's probably the best we can do to describe it, so we'll just ask Martin how he made this happen. Martin Molin joins us on the line from Sweden. Thanks so much for being with us, Martin.

MARTIN MOLIN: Thanks so much for having me.

MARTIN: How in the world did it occur to you that marbles could make music?

MOLIN: I think first and foremost, you have to understand that the concept of marble machines is a big culture, and I did not invent that, so -

MARTIN: I have no idea. It's a culture?

MOLIN: Yeah, that's why I would usually start with telling that, because if you checked for marble machine on the Internet, you will find loads of them. What I love so much with them is that they actually are for nothing. They are just sculptures.

MARTIN: So it sounds like it's artistic as a sculpture, but you took it a step further. You thought that you could somehow manipulate the marbles to hit different notes?

MOLIN: Yes, and my addition to the marble machine culture is that my marble machine is programmable. I have a big programming wheel in the middle of the machine, and it has the possibility of putting nails into the wheel. And for every nail you put into the wheel, one marble will fall at that exact time and in that exact position. That is what makes this special. I can tell you also - you know that some cities have these clock towers that plays melodies on bells?

MARTIN: In Europe, in kind of the main squares in European towns, yeah.

MOLIN: Exactly. So, like, 3 o'clock, it will play you a tune. And in the basement of all those clock towers, they have these kind of programming wheels. So the principle behind this programming wheel is ancient.

MARTIN: Can you describe this machine? I mean, you alluded to some of the mechanics of it, but how big is it? What does it look like?

MOLIN: It is 2 meters, 30 centimeters high.

MARTIN: You're going to make me do a conversion.

MOLIN: I wouldn't know what that is in imperial measurements, but it's higher than me, I can say.

MARTIN: Maybe 6 feet tall?

MOLIN: I wouldn't know, but I think it's a good guess.

MARTIN: (Laughter).

MOLIN: Are you going to switch over to metric anyway - soon?

MARTIN: America, no (laughter).

MOLIN: It's a super good system. You know...

MARTIN: I know.

MOLIN: ...Like hundred, and then when you divide it, you have 50 and stuff. It's so nice.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: OK, so this thing is big. And obviously, there's a lot of marbles and there's a lot of internal mechanics that are making this thing work. Do you have a background in engineering?

MOLIN: No. I was always a musician that had this secret dream about becoming an engineer. And I was always...

MARTIN: It's usually the reverse, you know?

MOLIN: Yeah, that's true, but I think some engineers are really rock stars. So for me, it's that way.

MARTIN: What can you do musically on this? I mean, there must be certain limitations, but what kind of sounds can you make on this that you couldn't make otherwise?

MOLIN: It can't make any sound that you couldn't make in another way (laughter).

MARTIN: Yeah.

MOLIN: No, it's playing bass, it's playing drums and it's playing vibraphone. You could argue that me, myself - alone, I wouldn't be able to play all these five instruments at the same time. But I think the reason why I built it was more for the sculptural, mechanical part of it, not - it's not an easier way to make music. It's just a cool way to make music.

MARTIN: (Laughter) Martin Molin of the Swedish band Wintergatan, thank you so much for talking with us.

MOLIN: Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO, "WINTERGATAN - MARBLE MACHINE")

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